West Australian cops have discovered $128million worth of cocaine inside a seemingly ordinary campervan as two men are arrested.
Officers seized the 320kg shipment, which had been divided into 1kg blocks, from the vehicle in Port Hedland, in the state’s northwest, on Sunday.
Two men, a NSW man, 49, and a German national, 37, are in police custody with prosecutors to allege the two men sailed almost 30km offshore to collect the drugs.
The discovery came followed a joint operation between the Australian Federal Police, the WA Police and the Australian Border Force into an alleged crime syndicate.
Officers seized the 320kg shipment – which had been divided into 1kg blocks – inside the vehicle at Port Hedland, a town in the state’s northwest, on Sunday
The pair allegedly hired a 6.5metre boat in Karratha before making the 240km drive to Port Hedland where it was launched from a local boat ramp.
The men travelled 28km out to sea to pick up the drugs, possibly from a bulk carrier.
The smaller boat was seen on both Thursday and Friday evening drifting close to an international bulk shipping carrier.
The WA Police tactical response group subsequently searched the ship with investigations to probe whether it was used to import the drugs into WA.
Meanwhile, both the NSW man and German national have each been charged with importing a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug – a offence that can carry a penalty of life imprisonment.
Police allegedly discovered the NSW man inside the campervan with the German national also placed in custody.
The pair are believed to have hired a 6.5metre boat in Karratha before making the 240km drive to Port Hedland (pictured) where it was launched from a local boat ramp
Police will allege the 37-year-old man flew from Germany to NSW in May to help retrieve the drugs and met up with the 49-year-old man in Port Hedland.
It is believed the majority of the major shipment was headed for the eastern states.
AFP Acting Assistant Commissioner John Tanti said the most recent bust would send a strong message to international syndicates looking to import drugs.
‘Australia is no safe haven for criminals. We are coming after you and we will not stop,’ Mr Tanti said.
‘We know drug trafficking can lead to drug wars in our streets, and often law-abiding citizens can be the collateral damage to that violence.’
He estimated the shipment would have been sold to up to 320,000 buyers with crime bosses pocketing at least $180million.
Police will allege the 37-year-old man flew from Germany to NSW in May to help retrieve the drugs and met with the 49-year-old man in Port Hedland (pictured)
WA remains a popular destination for smugglers due to the high market price of cocaine and the state’s proximity to Asia and Africa.
WA Police Force Acting Commissioner Col Blanch said the weekend seizure was further evidence that law enforcement agencies would work closely to deter drug traffickers from the state.
‘Illicit drugs cause immense harm in our community and WA Police Force will use every policing capability at its disposal to target the drug traffickers who seek to profit from the misery of others,’ Mr Blanch said.
‘Our specialist officers targeted this specific importation from the land, the sea and the air, and the hunt is not over yet – we will continue to pursue anyone linked to this syndicate or indeed any other drug trafficking organisation no matter where they hide across the world.’
It comes as three men were arrested over their alleged roles in the failed importation of $45million worth of cocaine in Port Botany, in Sydney’s southeast.
The AFP allege the smugglers were part of a transnational drug syndicate that twice tried to smuggle cocaine into the busy port, in late 2019 and early 2020.
It is alleged on the first attempt one of the men – an experienced diver – dropped the tyre onto the ocean floor while trying to retrieve it.
Police divers later located the tyre and found it empty, concluding the drugs must have fallen out during the voyage to Australia, or when the diver dropped the tyre.
Four months later, the same group tried to import 30 kilograms of cocaine with authorities secretly locating another tyre, which was also found empty.
Three men have been arrested over their alleged roles in the failed importation of $45million worth of cocaine in Port Botany, in Sydney’s southeast (pictured, the port in 2020)
Jovanco Kitanovski, 47, Mende Trajkoski, 43, and Robert Damcevski, 47, have each been charged for their alleged role in the conspiracy.
The discovery comes as the AFP revealed a growing number of international crime syndicates are using ships’ hulls to conceal their drugs.
Authorities first became aware of modern drug syndicates using the ‘old-school’ smuggling tactic during international sting Operation Ironside.
While the ‘underwater concealments’ are seen worldwide, police say NSW and WA are popular drug destination due to the high retail price of cocaine.
Highly-skilled divers wait to receive the shipments at ports, with traffickers able to bypass border checks and unwanted police scrutiny by travelling by water.